SA's strides in lowering tobacco use must be safeguarded

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pretoria – Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, South Africa has affirmed that strides are being made in lowering national tobacco use. 

This is based on the third South Africa Demographic and Health Survey (SADHS) conducted in 2016, which provides the most recent data on smoking and tobacco-related deaths, disease and disability amongst the adult population aged 15 years and older.  The study was conducted by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in partnership with the National Department of Health and the South African Medical Research Council. 

The 2016 survey shows that overall, 7% of women (of a sample of 6 126) and 36% of men (of a sample of 4 210) smoked.  These figures are lower when compared with data from the SADHS 1998 and SADHS 2016.  In this regard, 11% of women and 42% of men smoked in 1998, compared with 7% of women and 37% of men in 2016. 

SADHS 2016 also indicated that while the percentage of women and men who are occasional tobacco smokers had increased slightly since 1998, the percentage who were daily smokers had dropped by 3% for women and 7% for men. 

Similar reductions in smoking rates have been seen in school learners in South Africa, with the Global Youth Tobacco Surveys (GYTS) showing a decline in smoking rates from 23% in 1999 to 16.9% in 2011 – a 26.5% reduction. This is particularly important in tobacco control because a lifelong addiction to the nicotine in cigarettes usually becomes established in teenage years. 

At the same time, the results of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) conducted in 2012 by the Human Sciences Research Council and based on a sample of 15 401 adults in 10 000 households showed that 17.6% of adults surveyed currently smoke tobacco. Just of over 29% of males (29.2%) had a prevalence four times that for females, which stands at 7.3%. 

Speaking about the significance of these analyses of tobacco use in the country, Professor Priscilla Reddy, Acting Head of the Human Sciences Research Council’s Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation said: “A large proportion of adult South Africans continue to use tobacco. While considerable gains have been made in reducing tobacco use over the past 20 years, tobacco use and its determinants need to be monitored to ensure that tobacco control strategies remain effective. 

“We must remember that tobacco use poses a significant threat to the sustainable development of all countries as well as the health and socioeconomic well-being of populations. According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco use globally remains the second leading cause of premature deaths, disease and disability after hypertension, causing over six million deaths each year.” 

According to the World Health Organisation, the deaths, disease and disability caused by tobacco use may also result in major losses to the economy. 

Tobacco use worsens health inequalities and exacerbates the cycle of poverty, as the people with low socioeconomic status spend less on essentials such as nutritious food, education and basic health care. 

“Research also shows that the life of a smoker is cut short by 10 years on average, resulting in the premature loss of economically active citizens. In 2012, the total economic cost of smoking (health expenditures and productivity losses) equalled 1.8% of the world’s gross domestic product, with almost 40% incurred by low-income countries. 

“The adverse effects of these exposures threaten to undermine recent improvements in maternal and child health, and will result in increased rates of chronic diseases, disability and premature death in both newborns and women,” said Professor Reddy.


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